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Aftershocks shake quake-hit city

A powerful new 5.1-magnitude aftershock rattled terrified residents of New Zealand's earthquake-stricken city of Christchurch, as officials doubled their estimate for repairing the damage from nearly 300 aftershocks in five days.

The latest quake, just four miles below the Earth's surface and centred six miles south-east of the city, was felt by residents as the strongest aftershock in Christchurch since Saturday's 7.1 magnitude earthquake wrecked hundreds of buildings. No injuries were reported following the latest tremor.

"My guts is just churning up here. When will this thing end? It is like living in a maelstrom," Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said as workers streamed from the city's emergency headquarters.

"We have got staff in tears... power is out and a lot of people are very, very churned up by that," he told the NewstalkZB radio station.

After his second, closer look at the earthquake damage, prime minister John Key said he thought that rebuilding the city would cost more than the initial estimates of 2 billion New Zealand dollars (£0.9 billion), with at least 500 buildings already condemned and some 100,000 of the area's 160,000 houses damaged.

Treasury secretary John Whitehead said later that the full bill for earthquake damage could reach 4 billion New Zealand dollars (£1.9 billion), with the nation's Earthquake Commission likely to pay half of that.

Geological agency GNS Science reported that more than 280 aftershocks of magnitude 3.0 or greater have struck the region in the five days since the destructive 7.1 earthquake early on Saturday.

Earthquake experts warned that another strong aftershock, up to magnitude 6.1, could hammer the region in the coming days.

"With an earthquake of magnitude 7.1, like this one, the rule of thumb is you could get aftershocks as large as one unit lower - so magnitude 6.1," seismologist John Townend said.

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